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Polio

Polio is a serious infection that's now very rare as it can be prevented with vaccination. It's not found in the UK, but is still found in some parts of the world.

Check if you're at risk of polio

Although polio is not found in the UK, there's a small risk of getting it while travelling in a country where it's found.

Vaccination means polio is now very rare in most parts of the world. It's mainly found in 2 countries: Afghanistan and Pakistan.

Polio is caused by a virus that spreads easily when an infected person coughs or sneezes.

It can also be caught from food or water that's been in contact with the poo of someone who has the virus.

How to prevent polio

The best way to prevent polio is to make sure you and your child are up to date with your vaccinations.

The polio vaccine is part of the NHS routine childhood vaccination schedule.

It's given when your child is:

You need to have all of these vaccinations to be fully vaccinated against polio.

Information:

You can have a polio vaccination at any point if you've never had one before, even if you're not travelling to a country with a risk of getting polio.

You should also get vaccinated even if you've had polio before as it protects against different types of polio.

It's usually free on the NHS.

Check before you travel

If you're travelling abroad, get advice from a travel clinic, GP, nurse or pharmacist before you go.

You may need a polio booster vaccination or to get fully vaccinated against polio before you travel.

Some countries require proof of vaccination (an International Certificate of Vaccination or Prophylaxis, or ICVP) before you can enter or leave.

Symptoms of polio

Most people who get polio do not have symptoms.

Some people get mild, flu-like symptoms, such as:

  • a high temperature
  • extreme tiredness (fatigue)
  • headaches
  • being sick (vomiting)
  • a stiff neck
  • muscle pain

These symptoms usually last up to 10 days.

Rarely, polio can cause difficulty using your muscles (paralysis), usually in the legs. This can happen over hours or days.

It's not usually permanent and movement will slowly come back over the next few weeks or months.

But it can be life threatening if the paralysis affects the muscles used for breathing.

Urgent advice: Ask for an urgent GP appointment or get help from NHS 111 if:

  • you have travelled to a country where polio is found and have polio symptoms

You can call 111 or get help from 111 online.

Treatments for polio

Treatment for polio will help your body fight off the infection and lower the risk of long-term problems.

It can include:

  • bed rest in hospital
  • painkillers
  • help with breathing
  • regular stretches and exercises to prevent problems with your muscles and joints

You may need to have specialist help such as physiotherapy or surgery if you have any long-term problems caused by polio.

Complications of polio

Polio can cause long-term or lifelong difficulties.

Some people may be permanently paralysed, and others may have problems that need long-term treatment and support.

This can include:

  • muscle weakness
  • problems with your joints
  • swallowing difficulties (dysphagia)

If you've had polio before, you may develop symptoms again or your symptoms may get worse, sometimes decades later. This is called post-polio syndrome.

Page last reviewed: 23 May 2022
Next review due: 23 May 2025